Waterloo, Battle of


Waterloo, Battle of
(June 18, 1815) Final defeat of Napoleon and French forces in the Napoleonic Wars.

The battle was fought near Waterloo village, south of Brussels, during the Hundred Days of Napoleon's restoration, by Napoleon's 72,000 troops against the duke of Wellington's combined Allied army of 68,000 aided by 45,000 Prussians under Gebhard von Blücher. After the French defeated the Prussians at Ligny and held Wellington at Quatre-Bras in secondary battles on June 16, Napoleon's marshals, including Michel Ney, failed to eliminate either enemy while they were separated. Napoleon delayed his attack at Waterloo until midday, to allow the ground to dry, which enabled Blücher's main force to escape the pursuing French and join Wellington. Four French attacks on the Allied centre failed to break through, and Napoleon had to move troops to meet the Prussian flanking attack. When Ney succeeded in capturing a farmhouse at the centre of the Allied line, his call to Napoleon for reinforcements was refused. Wellington and his forces, though vulnerable after heavy losses, repulsed the final French assault and turned to advance against the French, forcing them into a disorganized retreat. The French suffered 25,000 killed and wounded, and 9,000 were captured; Wellington's casualties were 15,000, and Blücher's were about 8,000. Four days later, Napoleon abdicated for the last time.

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▪ European history
 (June 18, 1815), Napoleon's final defeat, ending 23 years of recurrent warfare between France and the other powers of Europe. It was fought during the Hundred Days of Napoleon's restoration, 3 miles (5 km) south of Waterloo village (which is 9 miles [14.5 km] south of Brussels), between Napoleon's 72,000 troops and the combined forces of the Duke of Wellington's (Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, 1st duke of, marquess of Douro, marquess of Wellington, earl of Wellington, Viscount Wellington of Talavera and of Wellington, Baron Douro or Wellesley) Allied army of 68,000 (with British, Dutch, Belgian, and German units) and about 45,000 Prussians, the main force of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher's (Blücher, Gebhard Leberecht von, Prince Von Wahlstatt) command. After defeating the Prussians at Ligny and holding Wellington at Quatre-Bras in secondary battles south of Waterloo on June 16, Napoleon's marshals, Michel Ney (Ney, Michel, Duc D'elchingen, Prince De La Moskowa) and Emmanuel de Grouchy, failed to attack and annihilate either enemy while their armies were separated. Grouchy, with 33,000 men, nearly one-third of Napoleon's total strength of 105,000, led a dilatory pursuit of Blücher. On the 18th he was tied down at Wavre by 17,000 troops of Blücher's rear guard, while Blücher's main force escaped him, rejoined Wellington, and turned the tide of battle at Waterloo, 8 miles (13 km) to the southwest. At Waterloo, Napoleon made a major blunder in delaying the opening of his attack on Wellington from morning until midday, to allow the ground to dry; this delay gave Blücher's troops exactly the time they needed to reach Waterloo and support Wellington.

      The four main French attacks against Wellington's army prior to 6:00 PM on June 18 all failed in their object—to decisively weaken the Allied centre to permit a French breakthrough—because they all lacked coordination between infantry and cavalry. Meanwhile, a secondary battle developed, in which the French were on the defensive against the 30,000 Prussian troops of Karl von Bülow's corps of Blücher's army. The Prussians arrived at Waterloo gradually and put pressure on Napoleon's eastern flank. To prevent the Prussians from advancing into his rear, Napoleon was forced to shift a corps under Georges Mouton, Count de Lobau, and to move several Imperial Guard battalions from his main battle against Wellington.

      Finally, at 6:00 PM, Ney employed his infantry, cavalry, and artillery in a coordinated attack and captured La Haye Sainte, a farmhouse in the centre of the Allied line. The French artillery then began blasting holes in the Allied centre. The decisive hour had arrived: Wellington's heavy losses left him vulnerable to any intensification of the French attack. But Ney's request for infantry reinforcements was refused because Napoleon was preoccupied with the Prussian flank attack. Only after 7:00 PM, with his flank secured, did he release several battalions of the Imperial Guard to Ney; but by then Wellington had reorganized his defenses, aided by the arrival of a Prussian corps under H.E.K. von Zieten. Ney led part of the guard and other units in the final assault on the Allies. The firepower of the Allied infantry shattered the tightly packed guard infantry. The repulse of the guard at 8:00 PM, followed in 15 minutes by the beginning of the general Allied advance and further Prussian attacks in the east, threw the French army into a panic; a disorganized retreat began. The pursuit of the French was taken up by the Prussians. Napoleon lost 25,000 men killed and wounded and 9,000 captured. Wellington's casualties were 15,000 and Blücher's were about 8,000. Four days later Napoleon abdicated for the second time.

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Universalium. 2010.

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